Surviving Parental Heartbreak:

When Reality Collides with Idealism


“Help God our kids are acting like heathens!”

By Dr. Ron Woodworth

 “When I was single I had seven theories and no kids.  But now that I’ve been married awhile, I have seven kids and no theories.”  Derek Prince

True story

A couple of years ago at my doctoral graduation banquet, when Patty and I were struggling with some parenting issues of our own, we were invited to join the President and his wife at the head table.1  It turned out that a number of the waiters and waitresses at the event were actually grand children of the President and his wife. Well, after a litany2 of remarkable accomplishments of all their grandchildren the wife matter of factly said, “We’re sure that all of your kids are also outstanding examples of the Christian faith—and probably all in ministry too.” Well, let’s just say that I’m glad she didn’t wait for a response.  Selah.

Christian parents suffer just like any other parents when their children make bad decisions.  And we are no exception.  In fact, I would say that committed Christian parents probably suffer more because they have such high expectations.  After all, we have served the Lord before we were married and dedicated each of our children to the Lord before they were even born.  Furthermore, God has promised to bless our children to a thousand generations and rescue them from generational curses by virtue of our faithful obedience to Christ—all by grace of course.

Subtly, these “faith-based expectations” exerts a pressure on the Christian family—parents and children alike.  Unfortunately, this pressure only adds to the grief.  Now, in addition to shock and rejection, there is also the guilt for having failed the Lord himself.  I have seen many a Christian parent struggle with overwhelming heartbreak when their hope-filled dreams collide with reality.

If this is your experience, or someone else you know, I pray the following thoughts will be a source of comfort in time of need.

Eight Tips on Surviving Parental Idealisms: (From one recovering idealist to another)

  1. Prepare for the stages (or facets) of grief. The stages are shock, denial, anger, regret, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and I would add restoration. These mostly un-welcomed guests are what we all must endure as we deal with the reality of loss in this life.
  2. Don’t become a skeptic. When idealism collides with realism many people begin to doubt their faith. And though some aspects of one’s faith may indeed need to be re-examined, we must be very careful not to “throw out the baby with the bath water.”
  3. Get some competent, truthful, and comforting counsel from those you trust. But remember: You do not just need advise about parenting…you also need personal healing for the brokenness in your own heart and mind.
  4. Watch out for the attack on your marriage. It’s so easy when things go wrong to blame another—especially your partner in the “failed enterprise of parenting.” Rather than separate, you actually need the ministry of one another in this time of grief. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree [which generally comes after a lot of disagreement] about anything you ask, it will be done for you.” (Matthew 18:19)
  5. Accept the fact that your kids are sinners too and in need of grace from the Lord and their Christian parents. Responding in the spirit vs. reacting in the flesh must become more than a slogan now in the life of your family. “Gag your rage and act your age!” I just made that up, but it must be for someone who’s reading this article—maybe you? Or like my wife once scolded me,

“You can be angry and judgmental and drive your kids away,

But all you’ll end up being is a lonely old man some day.”

(Don’t you hate it when your spouse is right—and then rhymes about it too?)

  1. Don’t condemn yourself “too hard.” Sure you’ve done things wrong and failed in your parenting, but who hasn’t? Like my wife says, God is the perfect parent and even his first son and daughter (Adam and Eve) blew it! Father please forgive her heretical musings…but now that I think about it, she may have a point Lord.
  2. Learn to release your kids to the sovereignty and goodness of the Lord. Remember: God has promised to work everything together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28), therefore we can confidently assert that we will see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). After all, our children belong to the Lord, so lets start trusting him to intervene as only he can—just like he did for us when we were lost.
  3. Allow your kids to live their own lives—especially as they get older. If they choose not to follow the Lord you may need to put your evangelism hat back on. In other words, work on winning them to the faith—just like you would any other unbeliever in need of Jesus. The advantage you have now is that they are related to you for the rest of your life. Hey, just wait until their own kids get here…Can anybody say “Sweet revenge”?!

Keep the faith my friends. For it is much too precious to relinquish to any loss in this life.

“I walked a mile with pleasure, she chattered all the way,

Leaving me none the wiser for all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow, never a word said she,

But oh the things I learned that day, when sorrow walked with me”

Barry McGuire

Let the Lord be Magnified! 


1) Please know that the seminary President and his wife are wonderful Christians and fantastic grandparents—which makes the story all the more humorously awkward

2) A litany is a rather lengthy recitation or enumeration of items—which grandparents are known to do